Forty years ago this spring two educators were working hard to help get me into college. They were working against the wishes of my parents. They were working out of their love for me.
These weren't just any educators. He was the principal of our high school. She was the girls' counselor and teacher of world-class electives - I still remember her psychology class as opening whole new worlds of possibility to me. Their daughter, Marcia, was (and still is) my best friend. I had spent many nights at their house, gone to many parties from their house, felt an oasis of safety whenever I entered their house.
My parents were not fond of this family, for what are now obvious reasons. Jealousy being the primary one, and fear of losing control of me. And as much as I longed to be free of my family's spirit-killing claim on me, my loyalties were torn. The paranoia with which my parents kept the world at bay infected my trust. I could never quite believe the Sodorffs were helping me because they believed I was worth helping - and saving.
That they understood me and loved me and knew the only way for me to really be free was with a good education was too much for me to hold. Even so, I accepted their help with gratitude, and found myself in a small private college with great credentials that fall.
It would be nearly twenty years before I could face my second family again. I broke contact with them believing I had destroyed their trust in and love of me with my life choices. There was no way I could face any of them given what I had done with the gifts they gave me: got pregnant, flunked out, got lost in drugs and sex and alcohol, joined a cult. Or so my shame convinced me.
It was only after I went back to school to become a teacher myself that I felt okay to let them back into my life. Amazingly, they were waiting, their love undiminished. Marcia and her mom traveled 300 miles to be at my wedding to Walt, two weeks before I got my first teaching job. I'm pretty sure it was then that I finally started calling her Claire, instead of Mrs. Sodorff. It was another decade before Dick & Claire became more natural to say than Mr. & Mrs. Sodorff. That softening came hand in hand with my ability to feel safe loving them and to be loved by them.
In the years since, whenever I go to Sandpoint to see Marcia, one of things I look forward to most is stopping by her parents' house to visit, and going to lunch with her mom. I know I've thanked them both, but I'm pretty sure they don't really know the depth of my gratitude. Or my love. But I'm always glad for the chance to tell them one more time.
Even though it's taken decades to manifest, their belief in me was not unfounded. As I get ready to leave public education, an institution I joined in part to honor them, I finally understand what they saw in me.
These educators who saved my life, who believed in my potential, are getting old. Life has gotten harder for them, even with Marcia close by to help. I wish there were some way I could ease this time for them. I owe them so much. I'm grateful that I will have a chance this summer, when I go to see Marcia and to attend my 40 year reunion, to hug them, tell them I love them and to let them know how very much their unwavering love mattered to me, and always will.
picture from Flickr